“ All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV)
Is the gospel of grace too narrow? That is a question being raised by many today, even those who would self-identify as evangelicals. People, afterall, have more needs than just their sin. We need to preach a gospel like the one Isaiah did: one that frees captives, gives sight to the blind and etc. Even Jesus seemed to be equally concerned with the physical needs, if not more concerned with the temporal as he was the spiritual. The push these days is to be holistic. We need to be about what God is about, restoring shalom and cohabitation with humans beings through acts of social good.
However, this normally means a move from the message of the gospel. Horizontal reconciliation fights for a spot in the message of reconciliation but ends up supplanting the very foundation of any hope of reconciliation. We fail to see what the main problem the gospel addresses is. When poverty, slavery and oppression become more of a problem than man’s sin then we can be sure we are on a less than Christian trajectory. What then is our message? What good news do we have? Let’s look at the book.
The first thing that sticks out is that God is the active reconciler. This is no synergistic coming together party. This is not the story of two equals restoring a rift between them. To understand biblical reconciliation, we must understand sin. The Fall was not Adam and Eve wanting God’s stuff more than other stuff. It was a rebellion against the Creator of the universe, a sort of cosmic treason. Sin was, and is, the exchanging of God’s glory for a lesser self-glory. This sin is bad news in front of a holy God. This is the infinite rift between God and man. Reconciliation deals with God putting forth Christ to remove the ground of alienation and take the just wrath and penalty of God for failing to glorify Him and enjoying Him as supreme treasure. So then, the reconciliation discussed in the above passage is purely vertical. This means that God is dealing with Himself. God is the one who loves and is the one whose justice must be satisfied. The unbeliever’s worst problem is God. Outside of Christ, God is terrible (old use of the word). But God, motivated by His glory and grace, has chosen to not count our transgressions on us but on Christ. To be sure, our emnity towards God must be overcome. God does this sovereignly in the application of the redemption Christ accomplished. He regenerates us, allowing us to see Christ as supreme beauty. He does ask but does it for His glory. So God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ’s atonement on the cross and his subsequent resurrection.
The reconciled have been reconciled to be ministers of reconciliation. It is altogether unlikely that now Paul is talking about a different kind of reconciliation. Many see this verse about reconciliation of social and political ills. But by defining the message of reconciliation many undercut any hope of these types of reconciliations. God has not promised equal distribution of wealth and various assets. There is no reason to think that things in a fallen world will get better. However, those reconciled to God by the message of reconciliation will live differently and be better citizens in the world. There is fruit that comes from the gospel. These fruits, however, can have no role in the gospel itself. When we collapse root and fruit we lose both. The reconciliation has been accomplished and so now we implore everyone to be reconciled to God. This blessing of reconciliation is for anyone who turns from their sin and trusts in Christ as their righteousness.
Don’t believe this isn’t the message Paul is talking about? Check out the last verse. 2 Corinthians 5:21 is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin. Jesus didn’t become sin, literally. He was punished as if he had sinned. He was accounted to be sin. God punished him as if he were us, as if he had rebelled against God even though he was perfectly obedient. Far from being divine child abuse, Christ laid down his life for the glory of the Father’s name. Christ showed the infinite holiness of God at the same time as His divine love. But that is not all. If we talk about being saved merely by Christ’s passive obedience (his taking on our sin and the penalties for it) we are only forgiven. Christ, you are much more than simply forgiven. You are justified. Jesus doesn’t just get you back to square one and leave you to earn a righteousness. We cheapen the character of God when we assume that a righteousness that is ours in anyway will suffice. God is perfect. He is holy- completley seperate and majestic. God justifies the ungodly. We do not becom sufficiently righteous in and of ourselves. Just as Christ had our sin imputed to him, so we have Christ’s rightouesness imputed or declared ours. This is the gospel. We will never be more in Christ than we are at the moment we are enabled to believe.
This message of the double imputation that takes place on the cross is the reconcilation we have received. It may result in social change. But it is not about social change. We have been reconiled to God through the inreducible minimum of the gospel. You subtract from the gospel when you add to it. It is not being holistic, it is heresy. Trust this message, which is foolishness to the world and pray that God makes our felt needs what we really do need. Redemption. This is for the purpose of seeing and savoring the glory of God in the gospel.
soli deo gloria